Starting to travel again
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Editorial

Starting to travel again

The world is starting to open up again — maybe wisely, maybe not, wisdom and prudence and the need to resume normal human relationships are so jumbled that it’s hard to know, but boy does it feel good — and we’re going back to the things we used to do.

Some of us have taken a bit longer than others of us to return to normal. I’ve been a bit slow, but this weekend, I took my first airplane trip.

When you go back to things you once took for granted, you notice things. Of course, at the airport this weekend, it would have been hard not to notice that it looked like a zoo. Or maybe the madhouse in “Marat/Sade” except lunatics in 1808 didn’t have wheeled suitcases to use as weapons. And we were lucky, because we were at Newark; we heard that many flights from both Kennedy and LaGuardia were hours late or canceled outright.

No matter whether or not checked in at home, and either printed out your boarding pass or put it in the part of your phone that the cutesy-namers cutely named your wallet, you had to wait on the line that snaked for hours down the airport. As you trudged forward, you passed by banks of self-check-in computers. They all said, if I remember correctly, “Sorry. Out of order.”

Then there was the long line for the scanning machine, where you put up your hands and it blows at you, and if you’re as lucky as I am you’re told that somewhere, in your empty pockets or elsewhere on your beltless body you’re showing metal, so you get to have some stranger shove her hands down your pants and then rub something on your hands to detect the explosives that – guess what? — you hadn’t used. At least not recently.

Once the plane finally took off, I remembered two things very clearly. First, although it had been nearly three years since I’d been on a plane, it felt surprisingly familiar. I recognized it; those rows of dirty-white plastic seats, like a Halloween graveyard display in someone’s yard. Someone with bad taste.

The other thing I remember was how much I hate to fly.

Then we landed, and drove off to my husband’s family reunion. And here’s the thing. Families are extraordinary.

There were about 120 people there; it was the 50th reunion. There’s a branch of the family that started in the Deep South and now many of them live in Nashville; another branch left Russia in the 1970s. There are Orthodox and Conservative and Reform and unaffiliated Jews; a few have intermarried. Most of the family are white but some are Black or brown or biracial or Asian. Someone is trans and someone else is nonbinary. Some are athletic and some are not; their range of interests is wide. And they’re nonjudgmental, instead curious about each other’s stories.

Oh, and the cottage that we stayed in had no toilet paper.

When we noticed, and went to the desk and asked, we were told that everything was locked up, but here was an extra half-empty box of tissues. The next morning, we asked again; we were told not to worry, it would show up, but it did not. Luckily, there were some tissues left. That afternoon, we asked again. Don’t worry, we were told again, but we did, but unfortunately worrying, by itself, does not produce toilet paper.

That evening, I went to the desk and stood there unmoving until I was given two rolls of toilet paper.

By now, a few days later, 15 people have tested positive for covid.

There is a lesson here, I’m sure, but I don’t know exactly what it is.

Go visit your family, but expect long lines, wear masks, and bring your own toilet paper?

Onward! —JP

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